Ravens Offense Is Cam Cameron's Best Since '06 Chargers

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Ravens Offense Is Cam Cameron's Best Since '06 Chargers
Cam Cameron will be angry if Joe Flacco takes control of the play-calling duties

Grantland's Bill Barnwell wrote a recent piece on the reign of the NFL running back as the clear No. 1 player at his position.

He traced these stalwarts back 40 years to the 1970s, when the former Redskin Larry Brown toted the rock for the Vince Lobardi-led Washington Redskins, and ended it in 2011 when Adrian Peterson's three-year reign came to an end after tearing his ACL.

In 2012 the crown is up for grabs. Barnwell ultimately concludes that the Ravens' Ray Rice will wear it after a successful upcoming season where he, like the others who have stated a convincing case in these open crown years, will prove himself as the No. 1 fantasy player.

Barnwell notes the changing NFL times: It is a pass-happy league, no running backs get 340-plus carries like they did from the LaDainian Tomlinson reign on down and catastrophic injuries to backs have become almost predictable.

The last point is not necessarily a sign of the times, but inflated viewership and technological analytics are leading to theories of the expendability of running backs. Those theories are false unless your team has an Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or other consensus top-five QB.

Because of his "skill for health" as Barnwell puts it, his tremendous catching ability and obviously his talent as a runner, Rice is a logical No. 1 overall fantasy pick and the model running back for the passer-friendly NFL. 

 

Ray Rice will finish 2012-13 as the unquestioned best RB in the league

Despite the opportunity to produce the NFL's elite ball-carrier, the Ravens enter their 2012 season like many teams in the NFL. Rice is not one of these question marks, but the Ravens suffered bad news this offseason after losing three of their most dependable players to either an Achilles injury, the New Orleans Saints or the San Diego Chargers.

The only good news, it seems, was Rice's signing of a lucrative five-year deal. The signing also gave the Ravens the flexibility to use the franchise tag in 2013.

With Joe Flacco in a contract year and likely to get the franchise tag after the 2012 campaign, the time to maximize Rice's mileage is now. The Ravens will get their money's worth from Ray and save money when they ultimately sign Flacco to a long-term deal.

If Rice is able to hit paydirt 20 times, Flacco's passing touchdown totals will likely not eclipse his season high of 25 touchdown throws. If he throws fewer than 30 touchdowns, it will be hard for Flacco to demand the $100 million his agent believes he deserves.

The Ravens, having never had a true franchise quarterback in their history until Flacco, are in uncharted territory with his contract. After Ed Reed's complaints, it's likely the Ravens would prefer to give Flacco less than more.

As a result, Ozzie Newsome and some of the Ravens' brass could pressure Cam Cameron to go 2006 San Diego on this year's offense. That year's Charger team boasted the No. 1 rushing attack, over 2,300 yards from scrimmage and an NFL-record 28 touchdowns from LaDainian Tomlinson.

Joe Flacco celebrates Ron Jaworski's QB rankings, where he finished 9th overall

Philip Rivers was in his first year as an NFL starter, but posted a strong QB rating (92.0) en route to a 14-2 regular season record.

Cameron's typically vanilla offense was able to utilize Tomlinson's talents to a record-setting pace even though his quarterback, who also was a first-round pick, was in his first year as the No. 1 guy.

Flacco is now in his fifth season as the starter. Coming off one of the best performances in his career against the Patriots in the AFC Championship, his confidence is running high.

Now in a contract year, Flacco may have to mix things up at the line of scrimmage in order to get the money he deserves. The typically reserved quarterback has never been the type to challenge his coaches and place himself above the team. If he wants top five quarterback money, he'll have to take some risks in 2012.

Cameron, no doubt, will be infuriated by that risk taking. With elite talent at the offensive skill positions,  player comments regarding their chance to be the No. 1 offense in the NFL are warranted. The Ravens are an excellent team and it is time the coaching staff is held fully accountable for any shortcomings on either side of the ball.

Cameron has historically employed a run-first system. The quarterbacks he has managed, namely Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, had their best years without Cameron in charge. Brees had one good season in San Diego before his rise to stardom under Sean Payton.

Rivers ascended to the elite QB ranks once Norv Turner took over control of the Chargers offense. The plateau he led both Rivers and Brees to is again seen in Flacco, a talented quarterback limited by the short leash that is Cam Cameron's system.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
Will Harbaugh side with his QB over his Offensive Coordinator should the offense struggle?

In a radio interview with New Orleans radio personality Jim Miller, former left guard Ben Grubbs mentioned that Flacco does not have the freedom to audible. This has long been a rumor circulated by Ravens nation who has found solace in blaming offensive coordinators for losses even before the abysmal Matt Cavanaugh play calling years.

Grubbs is the first player to speak this theory into reality. The pressure on Cameron to do something great with this 2012 offense is even greater.

Head coach John Harbaugh has backed his offensive coordinator time and time again despite the media's attempts to get Harbaugh to do otherwise. Harbaugh's job is quite secure but the media has also given him a lot of leeway in terms of not being too critical of his hands-off coaching style.

He has yet to face serious adversity due to his four-year playoff run. If things go wrong this season and the Ravens struggle to win games, the media will attack Cameron. Harbaugh's handling of the situation will prove whether Ravens nation sees Cameron as the issue or a head coach lacking complete control.

Rice's new contract benefits no one more than Cameron, as he sees this money as the green light to put the team on Rice's back. He seemingly has never trusted quarterbacks, as they have never made him look like an offensive genius the way his past running backs have.

This may be true, but Tomlinson and Rice are the only ones to truly have their best statistical seasons under Cameron. He has more control over their production than he does quarterbacks. Thus Cameron will get Rice the ball every which way he can while playing low risk offensive football.

Rob Carr/Getty Images
watch out for this combo in 2012-2013

This will be the best Ravens offense in franchise history because the talent and confidence of the unit is much stronger than any in years past. As many have said before, this is a make or break year for Joe Flacco.

Flacco needs to prove to not just Ravens fans but to the NFL that this is his offense, not Cam Cameron's. If Cameron had it his way, he would treat Flacco the same way he treated Philip Rivers in his first season as a starter, encouraging him to give the ball to their star running back at least 400 times in the season.

Though Rice will produce at a level below Tomlinson's 28-touchdown campaign, he will make up for the difference in touchdowns with unparalleled team play and an ability to carry his sometimes overwhelmed quarterback through adversity.

The 2006 Charger team Cameron coordinated led the league in points, but its head coach Marty Schottenheimer, a man whose principles of "Marty Ball" are very similar to the way Cam Cameron calls games, was fired after a first-round playoff loss.

Cameron was given the head coaching job at Miami the following season, where after a 1-15 campaign in which the only team he beat was the Ravens, he was shown the door.

One could draw the conclusion that the Chargers success was much more at the hands of Schottenheimer than Cameron. But because Schottenheimer was considered a defensive minded coach he did not receive such praise.

Cameron will do his best to save himself from scrutiny. To avoid scrutiny, he'll try to get Rice his touches at the expense of Flacco's throws. Ultimately, if this Ravens unit finishes outside of the top 10, it will be difficult for Ravens management to convince the fans Cameron is worthy of holding on to what should be an easy job for a coach of his caliber. If he does not succeed, it will prove Cameron's old school philosophies simply do not mesh with today's NFL.

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